Maya Seale has been invited to participate in the filming of a documentary to mark the 10-year anniversary of a trial that generated national media attention. Seale was one of the 12 jurors in the case. On trial was a young African-American teacher accused of murdering one of his students, the 15-year-old daughter of one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in Los Angeles.
As the prosecution laid out its case, Seale became more convinced that the circumstantial evidence (the girl’s body was never found) was too weak and too flawed to warrant conviction. As the jury began its deliberations Seale was the only juror to favor acquittal, but as time wore on she was able to sway enough of her fellow jurors to her opinion that they ultimately returned a verdict of “not guilty.” The verdict triggered immediate outrage in a public that had already convicted Bobby Nock of murder.
Ten years later Seale, now a successful defense attorney, finds herself at the center of yet another controversy. The television production company, in preparation for the reunion of the panel, reproduced in painstaking detail the hotel rooms in which the jurors had been sequestered during the trial. One of her fellow jurors, a man with whom Seale had a clandestine affair during the trial, and who subsequently wrote a book that scathingly accused Seale of engineering the release of a murderer, was found dead in her room. Seale was arrested and charged with his murder.
This is the storyline of the first two-thirds of “The Holdout,” a novel by Graham Moore. In the final chapters of the book the author leads the reader through an increasingly labyrinthine series of plot twists that resolve questions raised in the earlier pages.
It is both the responsibility and privilege of a novelist to construct a foundation based on realistic and credible details, then to allow the reader to observe the creation of a superstructure resting on that footing. The stronger the foundation the more complex an edifice it can support. Moore’s knowledge of the details of the criminal justice system permit him to present a sturdy groundwork for the possible, albeit unlikely, series of events and revelations leading to surprising and plausible resolutions of the novel’s intertwined story lines.
“The Holdout” will not be mistaken for great literature, but for readers seeking a clever mystery told in engaging prose the novel will prove a few hours well spent.